Overtime costs at the Bureau of Prisons roughly doubled over 2015-2019, the GAO has reported, but the agency “has not assessed associated risks to staff and inmate safety, such as officer fatigue and decreased observation skills.”
“Institution staff we interviewed stated that staffing shortfalls result in excessive overtime usage and a shortage of staff available for inmate programming such as drug treatment and education programs,” the auditors said. “Based on our review of 85 interviews that we conducted with staff working in BOP institutions during recent, related BOP audits, we found that staffing shortages were mentioned in more than half as a challenge to BOP’s operations.”
GAO said that identifying precise levels of under-staffing is difficult, though, because of actions in recent years including eliminating some vacant positions. “While this appeared to close the gap between filled and authorized positions, because the authorized positions had not previously been funded, there was no practical change in the staffing levels at BOP institutions. Moreover, BOP undertook this effort in an ad hoc way,” the report said.
It added the BoP has three separate methods for assessing staffing levels “but each contains inconsistencies in either terminology or methodology and we found reliability concerns with each” including lack of documentation and failure to take into account different characteristics among the institutions.
The GAO further noted that OPM denied, in 2019 and again in 2020, the BoP’s request to use the shortcut direct hire authority to fill vacancies among correctional officers, who constitute the majority of its workforce.